A play about the first European women in the new colony of Louisiane
Note: This play was written by Greg English
The Pelican Girls
This play deals with life in Fort St. Louis de la Mobile in 1704 and the arrival of the Pelican girls, the first European females to this lonely outpost in the New World. The cast includes Bienville, several French soldiers, the Pelican's captain, the women, and a narrator.
The basic facts of this play are true but a 'little' liberty has been taken with the conversation since no one was writing any of this down back in '04.
Cast: 5 female parts, 6 male parts, 1 male or female part
Narrator: The year is 1704, five years after Bienville and Iberville
first landed in Louisiana. Attempts to establish a colony have been limited at best.
There was Fort de Boulaye (Boo lay), Fort Maurepas (mare a paws), Fort Dauphin
Island, and Fort St. Louis de la Mobile.
Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, sieur d'Bienville, Governor of the tiny French colony stands with a soldier staring out over the Gulf of Mexico as if looking for something...
Soldier #1: Governor Bienville, when are we going to get some women in this colony. It's been years now and you just keep promising...
Bienville: (Interrupting the soldier) I know, I know. I've sent word to the Bishop of Quebec asking him to send some women here for ya'll. All I can ask of you is to just be patient.
Soldier #1: Sir, as you must know, most of the men have either deserted or run off into the woods to marry Indian women. We can't keep this fort manned to fight the British and the Spanish if everyone keeps leaving. Sir, the men want... uh... families, that's right, families.
Bienville: I know that, soldier, but we just have to hold on as long as we can. I want my brother to come back too but last I heard he had enlisted to fight in the French navy. He always did have a thing for frilly, lace uniforms and adventure. We'll just have to hold on. (pause and a deep sigh) I'm doing the best I can.
Soldier #1: But sir, we haven't seen a French ship in months. Do you think they even know we are still here? Or for that matter, do they even care?
Narrator: Bienville turns and walks slowly back to the fort...
Bienville: (talking to himself) I'm sure the king cares. That much I am sure of.
Narrator: Months would pass. The soldiers used their time to make repairs to the fort which had become a daily job. They also had to deal with threats from the Indians, mosquitoes, the heat, rain, lack of food, and just pure boredom.
Soldier #2: (out of breath) Governor, come quickly, a ship [breathing hard] a ship is coming into sight... I think it's one of ours...maybe ... I sure hope so...
Bienville: (Running out to the shore) It's...It's...It is. It's one of ours... send some men to row out and help them unload the supplies...hurry men, hurry.
Soldier #2: Yes sir, Governor ...right away Governor.
Bienville: Finally, a fresh load of supplies. Maybe the men will settle down now. I hope they brought a good supply of rum.
Soldier #3: (Looking through a sailors field glass) She's the Pelican sir and ... Whoa! ...Sir, look! ... Look...Is that what I think it is? I sure hope it is. If it is , she's MINE!
Bienville: (Grabbing the soldier's field glass). Let me see soldier. What are you looking... It is! Women, lots of women. He got my letter. The Bishop got my letter. The Pelican's brought women for the men. They didn't forget us.
Soldier #4: Sir, did I hear your right? There's women on board that ship? Yeeessss!!
Bienville: (quietly to himself) Thank you Lord. Maybe this wretched colony will survive after all. I just wonder what kind of women would come to this place on their on and why.
Narrator: Within an hour the soldiers began unloading the ship and her captain made his way to see Governor Bienville.
Ship's captain: My regards, Governor, I present to you Mademoiselle Boisrenaud (BWA-ra no), chaperone for these twenty-three fine young ladies from France. I have also transported two Catholic nuns and a priest for your colony. Some of them are very sick and need attention as soon as they come ashore.
Bienville: This is definitely a welcome sight sir. I trust you had a safe trip?
Captain: Yes sir, we did. Only minor problems in Havana.
Bienville: I hear you had other travelers too.
Captain: We did. Seventy-five soldiers and four families of craftsman to help you build this colony. I hope this is to your liking. It is what you requested from the Bishop.
Bienville: Very good sir, you've done well. Again thank you for their safe voyage. Soldier, show these people to their quarters and have someone bring in a keg of that new rum the captain just off loaded.... And tend to the sick.
Soldier #2: Yes sir. Anything else sir?
Bienville: Show the priest around the fort and take him and the nuns over to the chapel. Help them get settled and then set up a service as soon as they are ready.
Soldier # 2: Right away Governor.
Bienville: Captain, (pause) Captain sir, those soldiers, they look like mere boys, not old enough to serve.
Captain: Sir, that's all they could spare. The more experienced troops were needed elsewhere.
Narrator: Weeks turned into months and no other ships came. The women of the colony began to complain about everything in the fort - the food, the humidity, sanitary conditions, everything. Nothing seemed to satisfy them.
A group of women and soldiers stood near the entrance to the fort talking...
Woman #1: I'm leaving this stink hole. This place isn't anything like what we were told. Where are the houses? Where's the stores? Where's the...
Soldier #1: ( cutting her off) Madam! This is a military fort. I'm not sure what you were ...
Woman #1: No matter now, I'm leaving!
Soldier #3: To where? There's no place to go. This is it. To the south is the Gulf of Mexico, to the east and west, the Spanish - if you make it through the Indians, swamps, alligators, and...
Soldier # 4: I wouldn't worry about her. She ain't no lady that's for sure, I pity the poor Indian that lays a hand...
Woman #1: Watch your mouth buster!
Woman #2: (Joining the complaints) I'm tired of this place too. I'm sick of those nuns telling me who I can see and when. I hate being chaperoned. Mademoiselle won't let me spend time with the men I want! I'm havin' to sneak out every night...
Woman # 3: You too? I want to go back to France.
Woman #1: Yea!
Woman #5: Stop your complaining! I got a man and it's nothing to brag about. He don't work - he's lazy - all he does it eat, drink, sleep, - and STINK! And where's the house he promised me? This place is nothing like they told me. I'd rather be back working and living on the streets of Paris or in a jail cell. At least the food was better than this mess...
Soldier #2: Hold on ladies, it can't be all that ...
Woman #2: What? She's right, the food is terrible. Opossum, raccoons, fish and more fish. And you want me to eat those nasty little mudbugs that crawl out of the ground. I don't care if you do boil them. I'm not eatin' any such stuff. Are you crazy? Nobody in their right minds would ever eat those things. What I want is some wheat. Wheat to make some old fashion white French bread. Oh, (long sigh) how about some pastries? Something sweet.
Soldier #3: Hey, we make bread around here...
Woman #4: Sure, Bienville's housekeeper showed us how to grind maize into cornmeal. But corn bread is gritty. And what is it with this hominy and grits. It's like eating sand. How could you eat this stuff all those years?
Woman #5: Not everyone wants to leave. Did you see ol' LeCamp's new kid. That sure is a cute kid.
Woman #2: Yea, I hear they named it Jean Francois. If you ask me it's an awful fancy name for the first European born in this God forsaken place. A real Creole kid if you ask me. Next thing you'll know, we'll have Creole kids running all over this coastal area. What's next? German kids, how about English or even Asian kids?
Soldier #2: See ladies it's not THAT bad. Some people are making things work. It's just not that bad.
Woman #3: Maybe not for you. Look at these homes. They're crude. No doors, no windows, and those grass roofs don't keep out the rain...or the bugs! I've never seem so many bugs - crawling ones, flying ones, big ones, little ones...
Woman #4: Those huts may be great for those savage Indians but not me! I want a real house! Something with a big porch...up on piers, you know, off the ground to keep the snakes out.
Woman #5: And when was the last French shipment of supplies?
Soldier #2: Uh-h-h-h-h-h...
Woman #5: That's what I thought. Our ship, the Pelican! Things have been so bad we had to get foodstuff from the Spanish at Pensacola. Maybe the Spanish would treat us better.
Soldier #3: You think you women have it bad. Old Louie wants us to search for pearls and even tame and raise buffalo. I hear he's even considering having us raise silkworms. Can you believe it - silkworms. He must be desperate for money.
Woman #4: Quit complaining. At least you're getting paid.
Soldier #2: Paid? Paid when?... And what if I did get paid? Where would I spend it you old woman!
Woman #3: Who you calling 'old woman'? ...cough, cough, cough...
Woman #4: Hey, you don't look good. You feeling okay?
Woman #3: It's this blasted colony and this horrible yellow fever and malaria. I've counted over 30 people dead since we've been here. Somethings got to be done about all these mosquitoes and this miserable heat.
Woman #2: It's Bienville's fault... Cough, cough ...He's the one causing all this. What we need is a new governor.
Woman #1: I agree. How about old Edwin over there. He's been here longer than anyone. Everybody likes him - especially all the ladies.
Soldier #4: Naw, all he does is play cards and gamble all day. Nobody would ever go for that. He's been in more trouble. Who would vote for a guy like that anyway.
Woman #4: Certainly not old man Foster, he's over there now, trying to stop all that gambling Edwin started. He's making everybody mad. There's got to be somebody in this fort we could all agree on.
Soldier #4: Let's just tell Bienville to do something...
Soldier #3: He hasn't done anything so far, what's the use in talking to him?
Woman #5: Just yesterday I even heard the priest complaining that Bienville is too young to be governor. Heck, most of us are older than he is.
Soldier #1: Yeah and I hear he's been stealing our money too. The money he should be paying us with - (pause) - that crook!
Soldier #4: I guess he's doing the best he can, it's the king's fault anyway not Bienville. Hey, even Bienville's been down with the yellow fever. He's doing all he can. Why not blame old Louie the 14th!
Soldier #3: Man, you don't know what you're talking about.
Woman #1: Why don't all of you just shutup. Me, I'm gonna find a way out of this dump... Tomorrow, yea, tomorrow, I'm gonna get out of here...somehow... which way is east?
Narrator: Standing in the doorway of his hut, Bienville watches as the sun sets to the west and the small crowd of soldiers and women wander off in separate directions...
Bienville: If only the king would send me some people who would work. Farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths. All these people want to do is get rich quick. How do they expect to do that here? There's no gold or silver. Even the animals are so small that there's not much fur on them. These people just want a handout. (a very long, slow sigh) Soldier, is there any of that rum left? I think I need a drink.
Narrator: And so it goes in the little French colony along the Gulf coast at Mobile Bay.
Within a year Bienville was recalled to France due to the colony's problems. Before he left, however, he was cleared of stealing money. The man named to replace him as governor died before he could get to Louisiana. Bienville remained on as governor. He gave over 40 years of service to the colony of Louisiana. Bienville would serve as governor on and off until 1743. He died in Paris in 1767 at the age of 87.
He would always be known as "the Father of Louisiana".